If Amtrak established a bus service from Augusta to the train station in Columbia, S.C., Augusta could get tourists and a chance at winning passenger rail service one day, an official said Thursday.
Amtrak is researching the demand and costs of operating a bus service similar to others it runs around the country, according to Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak's Chicago office. The ThruWay Service would likely start after the spring schedule reprinting, he said in an interview.
Thursday, at a directors meeting for the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chairman Pat Timmerman asked his staff to coordinate with the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce about deciding to lobby for the bus service.
Augusta passengers would buy tickets at local travel agencies, through a toll-free telephone number or on the World Wide Web. They would take a chartered bus or a regularly scheduled bus coordinated with the railroad in order to meet the Silver Star train in Columbia at 1:05 a.m and 2:05 a.m. The train stops in Columbia on its way between Florida and New York.
"I know that a lot of people come to Columbia from Augusta to board trains going north and south," said Joseph Roof, a director with the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains.
"One of the ways we measure how successful rail service is is the success of the Thruway Service," Mr. Magliari said.
The service should succeed in Augusta, according to Jack Martin, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. He said the bus-rail links are successful in many areas where airfares are high.
"What other options are there that have reasonable fares to Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia?" he asked.
At the Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting, director David Jones, who comes from a railroad family, said he favored getting the service because Amtrak would market Augusta as a destination in its schedules and advertisements. He said he has written Amtrak on behalf of Sheraton Hotels in Augusta and Columbia supporting the service.
One group of visitors has already announced it likes the Augusta area enough to return next year. Tammy Stout, executive director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council, told Convention and Visitors Bureau board members that organizers of the Nike Peach Jam have already committed to host another tournament in North Augusta in 1998.
This year's basketball tournament brought 23 all-star high-school teams and 300 college and professional coaches who watched them to spot talent. That was 100 more coaches than last year, she said. She estimated the tournament added $1.2 million to the local economy.
In the distant future, Augusta could be linked by rail to Columbia and Atlanta through two separate avenues.
Mr. Martin also serves on the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority at the appointment of the governor. He said that agency has plans to initiate high-speed rail service to Macon first, then Columbus and Savannah. Augusta would get service in the long term, he said.
From Columbia, Mr. Roof said Augusta would be a logical candidate for service by North Carolina's state-run Carolinian train that runs between Raleigh and Charlotte. His organization is lobbying the state to extend the line to Columbia.
"In our brainstorming sessions, we frequently talk about extending that train to Augusta. But that is not a realistic prospect now," he said.